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“What is the best turkey gun?”
This topic has probably instigated the most discussion around turkey camp, second only to “what turkey call is best?”
Not to get too philosophical, but how you approach the sport of turkey hunting is going to depend on what you want out of it. Let me explain.
To determine what you want from turkey hunting, ask yourself a few questions:
- Is your main purpose for hunting turkeys to bag a tom every time you have an opportunity? If so, then you should select a highly effective, highly efficient, semi automatic 12 gauge shotgun that takes 3 1/2 inch magnum loads. We will talk more turkey gun specifics later in this article.
- Do you enjoy the challenge of putting limitations on yourself? Then you might choose to hunt with a flint-lock muzzleloader or a single shot small caliber shotgun. Choosing a weapon with limitations adds an inherent responsibility, limiting your shot to the maximum effective range.
- Do you want to put other limitations on yourself to increase the challenge? Maybe you’ll choose not to use a ground blind.
- Do you want to walk a lot, covering lots of ground? You won’t want to lug a blind and chairs, and you’ll probably wear lighter-weight clothing and boots.
- Do you find it more fun to hunt with archery equipment? Scoped crossbow? Compound? Recurve? Longbow?
Choosing a weapon to hunt wild turkeys is the first step in assembling your turkey hunting gear. What you use will dictate what other pieces of equipment you’ll need for the sport. For example, say you decide to chase gobblers with a bow.
- Your clothing will need to be less bulky to allow you to draw properly.
- If you archery hunt from a blind, it will need to be chosen by height, to accommodate raising the bow limb.
- You may need to use face paint instead of a mesh head mask for sighting and anchoring.
- Using a mouth vs. a box or slate call will better free up your hands to shoot your bow.
So you can see there’s a lot to consider, and it’s all based on your chosen weapon. I’ll come back to archery after we talk about hunting turkeys with a gun.
Choosing Your Turkey Gun
Placing conditions on yourself, for any hunt, can be fun. For instance, a few of my hunting buddies prefer going after turkeys with vintage shotguns– pre 1950 side-by-sides, with 2 3/4 inch shells only. That certainly limits their range, forcing them to call the gobbler in closer. After all, that is the art of the sport. They are happy to simply have an encounter with a gobbler, maybe just not getting him in quite close enough to shoot. They’re ok with knowing they could have easily bagged it with a modern shotgun. I admit, it’s more exciting, intensifies the hunt, and is very rewarding to bag a bird that way.
10 Gauge or 12 Gauge?
Ok, let’s skip the endless limitations you could place on yourself. Say you want to efficiently kill (or should I be more politically correct, and say “harvest”? I’ll stick with what I grew up with… “kill.”) a bird with a modern shotgun. I prefer a semiautomatic 12 gauge turkey gun.
The special purpose turkey gun is designed to be lightweight and short barreled. You’re probably only going to need one shot. Even so, because of the gas operated action, a semiautomatic absorbs a lot of that magnum load recoil and shoulder punishment. Most often, a turkey gun will come in a camouflage pattern. I think the no-glare finish helps you blend in, especially when the gobbler is close. Your shotgun should also feature a sling, which will come in handy both hiking between set ups and when carrying out your bird.
I’ve owned and hunted with three different 10 gauge guns. For a while, the 10 gauge was the popular turkey gun for any serious turkey hunter. I’ve shot a lot of gobblers with them.
But I’ve gone back to a 12. A 12 gauge’s 3 ½ inch shell gives you almost the same amount of bbs and punch as a 10 gauge’s shell. The 12 gauges are much lighter, a joy to carry, instead of my 13 pound 10 gauges.
Save your 10s for the goose blind. The older I get, the more I decide they’re just too heavy and too clumsy. It’s like trying to maneuver a telephone pole through the woods. Although, everything is proportionately relative, so if you’re under 40 years old, over 6 1/2 feet tall and weigh more than 250, you might not agree. I’m none of those, so that’s just my opinion (That ought to stir up some comments!).
I find a ventilated ribbed 26 inch barrel carries well through the woods and still balances well for the shot. Most come with a changeable choke. I’ve patterned several manufactures, with the Kicks turkey choke taking first place and a Remington super full coming in second. The gas ports on the Kicks choke reduces the recoil, which is nice on the shoulder. Both hold tight groups and even spreads of bbs.
Turkey Gun Shells
You’ll need to experiment at the range to see what shells your turkey gun likes best. When you do, make sure you slap on a quality recoil pad.
LimbSaver makes an excellent pad that slips right on over the stock. All these recoil reducers are great, especially if you’re taking a newbie, and you’re loaning them your turkey gun. Why get beat up?
Believe me, range-testing boxes of magnum loads through tight chokes eventually hurts. I’ve been tattooed on my right shoulder with a purplish nondescript design too many times.
If I take someone turkey hunting, my hope is that they cleanly shoot a turkey and kill the turkey on the spot. My rule is if they hunt with me, they’re going to use one of my guns unless they have spent considerable time at the range doing their homework.
It’s a shame when turkeys are shot at but not recovered. Unless they are hit in the skeletal structure, a gobbler can be mortally hit with a single bb but still fly off, only to die later. We absolutely don’t want that to happen.
A huge part of any kind of hunting is being responsible enough to make sure you are properly prepared and equipped to make a clean, humane kill.
I have some bursitis in my shoulder, and that’s earned me the right to an opinion on good shotgun shells. Here are two of my favorites: Winchester Supreme 3 1/2 inch magnum 12 gauge, copper coated #5 shot, and Remington Triplex Heavy Shot. Both of these pattern well in my guns, with the heavy shot dropping a little more down range.
Another shell I like is Winchester’s Extended Range, with the extended shot wad, 3″ in #5 shot. They hold a tight pattern and cycle well in my autos.
One of the drawbacks to the 3 1/2″ shells is that occasionally, one will get hung up when firing a second shot. I’ve noticed this mainly at the range. This happens more often if you’ve loaded that particular shell several times in the magazine, on several hunting trips, and ejected it at the end of the day.
Like I said previously, every gun/choke combo is different and you’ll need to punch some holes in some targets to find what works best in yours.
That’s why I made a free 2-part turkey target for you to download and print at home. One sheet is an illustration of a turkey, and the other is a drawing of the turkey’s skeletal structure. Print them both, put the illustration sheet on top of the skeletal sheet, and make your practice shot. Then, you can check the skeletal sheet underneath to see if any of your bbs were lethal. You can download your free target here.
Archery Turkey Hunting
Archery hunting turkeys will really test your skill. About ten years ago, a funny thing happened to me. The mystique of killing turkeys waned. It was still fun to take someone who was new to the sport and see the hunt through their eyes, but it wasn’t the same when I’d go by myself. I think anything that you do enough and sort of figure out loses a little of its thrill after a while.
So to spice it up a little, I decided to use a recurve bow on most of my hunts. Boy, did the added limitations make it tough again! Because the hunt gets-up-close-and-personal, I’m more successful on solo hunts.
A blind is a good way to go if you’ve decided to use a bow. It hides the movement from your drawing an arrow at close range.
Choosing to hunt with a bow will mean you’ll have to spend hours practicing. You’ll need to be able to shoot accurately from standing, sitting, and kneeling positions.
You’ll need to adjust your bow sights, as turkey broadheads fly differently from those used for big game.
Expandable broadheads are a good choice as they add some shocking power as they open. Decapitating turkey broadheads, with wide-spread blades, are effective at close range. The wide blades give the archer about a 4″ margin of error. But they’re not much in the aerodynamics area, so keep your shots under 20 yards.
Turkey stoppers, like Scorpions can be added to your arrows and work well.
Limiting your range, again, depends on your proficiency. Just because you stick a turkey with an arrow somewhere in his body, doesn’t mean you’re going to roast him that night. Shot placement is really critical. Aim just above the hip. A gobbler in strut puffs up to become a seemingly bigger target. But focus your aim. If you’re a Robin Hood, shoot him in the head. Your shot will either be a clean miss or a stone cold recovery.
This article is dedicated to your weapon of choice. But since ground blinds and shooting go hand in hand, allow me to go off on a ground blind tangent and offer a few thoughts to consider.
The use of a blind with decoys conceals a hunter’s movement and fixes the approaching gobbler’s attention. Gobblers usually aren’t spooked by blinds, accepting them as part of the natural landscape.
One big advantage of using a blind is protection when hunting in foul weather. If it’s raining, it’s nice to be in a closed area where you’re not getting soaked. Blinds also offer a buffer from wind and cold. They allow you to sit in a chair, which sure beats the hard ground.
The extra concealment blinds offer is ideal for fidgety young hunters. They’ll hide the use of shooting sticks too.
It seems everyone today wants to film their hunts. A blind allows you to set up a video camera on a tripod and get away with the movement it takes to operate it.
But there are also a few drawbacks to using a ground blind. They can limit your visibility, and their windows can hinder shot opportunities. Sometimes the turkey just doesn’t walk by one of those windows.
They’re not easy to carry with you in the woods either. You’re probably not going to be running-and-gunning. Don’t try to set one up close to a roosted bird. He’ll flush before you get the blind out of its case. If you’re going the whole nine yards and bringing along chairs, you probably ought to set up the day before. But, if you leave the blind set up, you’ll be signaling to all other hunters where your favorite spot is.
You’ll need to make sure you secure that blind down well. If you don’t, the wind will flap your flaps until you hear the turkey’s flaps, and it’s bye-bye birdie.
When I hunt with a bow, especially a long-limbed recurve, I like to use a shield style blind like the MAD Max Blind.
So the bottom line for your turkey gun is: use whatever floats your boat. Tell me what you use in the comments below.
Just remember to limit your shot to your effective range. And be sure you know what that range is by practicing with my free 2-part turkey target download.
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